Television talk show host Jerry Springer told Lucas County Democrats last night he is just weeks away from deciding whether to enter the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican George Voinovich.
But he added that he first must determine whether his racy show will harm his political chances.
Introduced to a crowd chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” - a trademark of his raucous syndicated program in which audience members taunt the guests and tout the host - the former Cincinnati mayor got to the point.
“If I can break through the clutter of the show and be heard on the issues that are important to you, then I will,” he told the 200 people crowded into the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall on Ashland Avenue.
He said several focus groups in different Ohio media markets are testing his name and popularity, among other things. Results from those surveys will help him determine whether to get into the race. Mr. Springer launched an exploratory Web site yesterday - www.runjerryrun.com.
As he has in other speeches around the state this year, Mr. Springer criticized “an aura of elitism” that he said has enveloped Washington lawmakers.
“Everything is done to protect the interests of the rich and powerful,” he said. “It's not that the people in Washington are evil. It's that we aren't even on their radar screen.”
He arrived an hour before his speech and quickly drew a crowd. He moved around the hall, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.
“What Jerry Springer hopes and promises is that he will attract people who are not typically involved in the political process,” said Paula Ross, chairman of the county Democrats.
“I think he's an attractive candidate,” said Larry Fox, a UAW worker who said he does not think Mr. Springer's television show will hurt him on the campaign trail. “I think he's got the heart of the people.”
Ed Cichy, who has run for local public office himself, said the key is for Mr. Springer's supporters to “separate the man from the job. Which do you see? Do you see Jerry Springer as the serious candidate or do you see Jerry Springer as the talk show host? That's the question you have to answer.”
“Is he serious about this, or is this just the setting for his next show?” asked Larry Sykes, a member of the Toledo Board of Education. “People love stars. These individuals have an audience, but will that audience come out and vote for him?”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Springer taped the Carty and Company public affairs program at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, which will air Sunday morning.
Mr. Springer has been touring Ohio between taping sessions of his show for months, saying in an interview yesterday that the process is “physically grueling,” but rewarding because people are beginning to take him more seriously - something he had not expected to happen so quickly.
“The first time around [the state] it was `what?'” he said of people's quizzical response to his possible candidacy. “I don't get `what?' anymore,” he said. “The crowds are great. I'm starting to think that if I don't run, there will be people who are mad.”
State Sen. Eric Fingerhut, a Democrat from Shaker Heights, already has declared his candidacy for the party's nomination to run against Mr. Voinovich.